After Disaster, a Survivor Sheds Her Regrets

Martha Conant and Brittany Conant i i

Martha Conant (left) told her story to her daughter-in-law, Brittany Conant, in Greeley, Colo. StoryCorps hide caption

itoggle caption StoryCorps
Martha Conant and Brittany Conant

Martha Conant (left) told her story to her daughter-in-law, Brittany Conant, in Greeley, Colo.

StoryCorps

On the afternoon of July 19, 1989, United Airlines Flight 232 crash-landed just outside of Sioux City, Iowa. Of the 296 people on board, 111 died. Of the survivors, only 13 walked away unscathed. Martha Conant was one of them.

"There was a jerk," she remembers. "The airplane really lurched, and the pilot said, 'We've lost an engine. No problem. DC-10s can fly perfectly well on two engines. Sorry for the disturbance. I hope you enjoy the rest of your lunch.'

"The flight attendants were picking up the dishes and one member of the flight crew came back to look out the window at the wings. But he was calm, he was talking to people. So there was confidence that this was just a hitch, that we were going to be fine.

"It was 40 minutes from the time that the plane lurched until we ... I'm going to say landed rather than crashed ... because we were intending to land. And I remember the pilot told us over the P.A. that 'It's going to be the roughest landing you've ever experienced.' And he yelled, 'Brace, brace, brace.'

"The next thing was a huge influx of air and debris. My body was being bounced around so much, I was out of control. I lost consciousness and when I came to, I remember saying to myself, 'Oh, I'm still alive.' Then the motion stopped and the plane was still."

Asked if she ever thought there was a reason why she survived unharmed, Conant says, "I have asked myself that question so many times. When survivors were being fed and cared for, I ended up talking to a young man who was a social worker. And he said, 'God must have had a reason for saving you. You haven't finished your life's work yet.'

"I was quite troubled. It felt like I was saddled with a lot of responsibility ... to figure out, 'What is this work I'm supposed to be doing?' And then the flipside is God didn't have anymore work for all those other people, and I don't believe that.

"I decided to live with as few regrets as possible: Not leaving home in the morning being upset with someone, not passing up a chance to tell my husband or one of the boys how much I love them.

"It was hard to do that because it wasn't the habit. But whenever I thought, 'Oh, this is hard,' then I'd think, 'Well, I might not be coming home tonight. It's not that hard.'

"That event was like being picked up by the scruff of the neck and shaken and God says, 'This is your only life. Just be grateful that you've go these days and these hours and these wonderful people in your life. Just be grateful for that.'

"One of the things that has followed me, surrounded me, wrapped me, I think, is that feeling of gratitude."

Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

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